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Personal profile

Scholarly biography

Rebecca Elmhirst is Professor of Human Geography and Deputy Head (Learning and Teaching) in the School of Environment and Technology. She is a human geographer and political ecologist, with two decades of research and teaching experience on struggles over environmental governance, migration and social justice in the global South. Most of her work is in partnership with scholar-activists in Southeast Asia, with whom she has developed various programmes of research and teaching. These include current projects on the gender dimensions of oil palm investment in Indonesia, links between migrant remittances, livelihoods and resource access, and on living with floods in a mobile Southeast Asia. She is a Principal Investigator in the WEGO (Wellbeing, Ecology and Gender) MSCA Innovative Training Network on feminist political ecology. Becky is a member of the Centre of Excellence for Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics and for Aquatic Environments. She also sits in the Society, Space and Environment research group. Becky has published more than 40 journal articles and chapters, co-edited three books and contributed to popular publications. Her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy, the European Commission, the Research Council of Norway and European Commission Horizon 2020. 

Approach to teaching

I am a human geographer with an interest in exploring the links between society and the environment. My teaching focuses on the negative and socially uneven impacts of extractive environmental degradation, and on actions that challenge social and ecological injustice in different parts of the world. I lead students through these issues via Political Ecology: a field of inquiry which enables analysis of so-called ‘wicked’ problems and highlights the possibilities of more ethical and  convivial ways of inhabiting the planet.

I use teaching practices that equip students with the tools that enable them to think differently about some of these problems and possibilities. I teach on first year undergraduate modules ‘Human Geography’ and ‘Global Environmental Issues’, ‘Sustainable Development’ and ‘Professional Practice’ in the second year, and on ‘Political Ecology’ in the final year.

I am an advocate of field-based learning, and have built and developed a second year geography field trip to Morocco in collaboration with a community partner in the Atlas Mountains. The fieldtrip offers a transformative opportunity for students and lecturers to reflect on and deepen their classroom learning whilst broadening critical perspectives on society-environment relationships in an unfamiliar setting.


Research interests

I undertake research in the broad field of political ecology. My work is informed by intersectional feminist theory, critical development studies and environmental advocacy-activism around resource extraction, with an empirical focus on the gendered ecological politics of displacement, resettlement and dispossession in forest and flood contexts in Indonesia and Thailand. Current projects include work on the ways that gendered processes of mobility and migrant remittances unsettle linear analyses of dispossession associated with oil palm investment. I am also exploring ways to rethink feminist political ecology by linking theories associated with 'material feminisms' to empirical work on mobility, environmental change and gender in Southeast Asia and the practice of feminist political ecology pedagogy and research in diverse professional contexts.

Supervisory Interests

I am currently supervising three PhD students, two of whom are part of a Marie Curie Sklodowska Innovative Training Network programme on which she is Principal Investigator. I am interested in supervising doctoral projects relating to (feminist) political ecology, and in particular, projects that relate to social and environmental justice, agrarian resource extractivism, decolonial thinking and critical approaches to sustainable development. 

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of London

Award Date: 19 Jan 1997

Master, University of British Columbia

Award Date: 7 Sep 1989

Bachelor, Newcastle University

Award Date: 7 Jul 1987

External positions

Editor, Gender, Technology and Development (Taylor and Francis)


  • G Geography (General)
  • political ecology
  • development studies
  • migration
  • Indonesia
  • feminist theory
  • sustainable development
  • environmental justice
  • social justice

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Research Output

Extracting Us: Looking Differently: Feminism, Politics and Coal Extraction

Siti, M., Hoover, E., Ekowati, D., Owen, A., Elmhirst, R. & Heath, L., 2019

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition

  • Ecología política feminista: perspectivas situadas, compromisos emergentes

    Elmhirst, R., 10 Jan 2018, In : Ecologia Politica. 54

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • Flooding in a city of migrants: ethnicity and entitlement in Bandar Lampung, Indonesia

    Elmhirst, R. & Darmastuti, A., 2 Nov 2017, Living with floods in a mobile Southeast Asia: a political ecology of vulnerability, migration and environmental change. Middleton, C., Elmhirst, R. & Chantavanich, S. (eds.). London, UK: Routledge, p. 146-166 21 p. (Routledge Studies in Development, Mobilities and Migration).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter

    Open Access
  • Gender and generation in engagements with oil palm in East Kalimantan, Indonesia: insights from feminist political ecology

    Elmhirst, R., Siscawati, M., Sijapati Basnett, B. & Ekowati, D., 10 Aug 2017, In : Journal of Peasant Studies. 44, 6, p. 1135-1157 23 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • Living with floods in a mobile Southeast Asia: a political ecology of vulnerability, migration and environmental change

    Middleton, C., Elmhirst, R. & Chantavanich, S., 2 Nov 2017, London: Routledge. 202 p. (Routledge Studies in Development, Mobilities and Migration)

    Research output: Book/ReportBook - authored

  • Activities

    • 1 Exhibition, performance
    • 1 Invited talk

    Forest Communities and Palm Oil: Film Screening and Discussion

    Dian Ekowati (Invited presenter), Rebecca Elmhirst (Invited presenter), Persephone Pearl (Presenter) & Deru Anding (Invited presenter)

    28 Nov 2019

    Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

    Extracting Us

    Maimunah Siti (Organiser), Elona Hoover (Organiser), Dian Ekowati (Organiser), Alice Owen (Organiser), Rebecca Elmhirst (Organiser) & Lydia Heath (Organiser)

    11 Jul 201921 Jul 2019

    Activity: EventsExhibition, performance